(The Bible does not mention the name of the pharaoh of the Exodus, but students of the Bible have always been curious about who he was. Some may be wary of trying to discover something the Bible hasn’t clearly revealed; but in studying this question, one can come away with his faith increased in the Bible as the unerring word of God. For even though the Bible doesn’t specifically name the pharaoh of the Exodus, it does supply enough data for us to be relatively sure who he was.)
There are two schools of thought concerning the date of the Exodus — the early date (1446-45 B.C.) and late date (1290 B.C.). Proponents of the late date theory are clearly in the majority, but reject clear biblical statements with reference to the date of the Exodus. Therefore, their arguments in favor of a particular pharaoh (viz., Rameses II) will not be considered in this article.
In I Kings 6:1 the Scriptures say: “And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the Lord” (NKJV). One can readily see that the times for both the Exodus and the beginning of the Temple have been specifically stated in God’s Word. Scholars have identified the fourth year of Solomon’s reign as 966 B.C. (Gleason, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 1974, p. 223). Using this 966 date, we find that the Exodus took place in 1446-45 B.C. Now, if this information is correct, the Exodus occurred in the third year of the reign of the pharaoh Amenhotep II (aka Amenophis II).
But before we can view Amenhotep II as the likely candidate for the exodus-pharaoh, we’ll will need more evidence (see Amenhotep II statue at left). For example, when comparing Exodus 7:7 with Acts 7:23, we learn that Moses was in Midian approximately forty years. Assuming the pharaohs mentioned in Exodus 1:8, 22 and 2:23 are all the same person, he would have had to reign for over forty years. Amenhotep’s predecessor, Thutmose III, is the only pharaoh within the time specified in I Kings 6:1 who reigned long enough (54 years) to have been on the throne at the time of Moses’ flight and to die shortly before his return to Egypt. This would make Thutmose III the pharaoh of the Oppression and Amenhotep II the pharaoh of the Exodus.
If Amenhotep II was the exodus-pharaoh, he obviously lived through the the tenth and final plague (cf. Ex. 12:30-31), which means he could /not/ have been “the king’s eldest son,” a title the Egyptians frequently used of pharaoh’s oldest son, who stood in line behind his father as the heir apparent to the throne. And in point of fact, Amenhotep II was not the oldest son of Thutmose III. This is evidenced by an inscription from the Karnak Festival Hall, which dates to the 24th year of the reign of Thutmose II, that identifies Amenemhet, not Amenhotep, as being “the king’s eldest son.” It reads, “. . . appointing the king’s eldest son [Amen]emhet as overseer of cattle” (Peter Der Manuelian, Studies in the Reign of Amenophis II, p. 19, emphasis mine). This points rather convincingly to Amenhotep II as being the pharaoh of the Exodus.
As one would expect if Amenhotep II was indeed the exodus-pharaoh, history tells us that for several years after 1446-45 B.C. (which was the 9th year of his reign) he was unable to carry out any invasions or extensive military operations. Although this would seem strange behavior for one who would have surely hoped to equal his father’s record of no less than seventeen military campaigns in nineteen years, it is exactly what one would expect from a pharaoh who had lost almost all his cavalry, chariotry, and army at the Red Sea (Ex. 14:23, 27-30).
But it is just here that a significant problem arises, for it is widely held that, according to the biblical account, the exodus-pharaoh died in the Red Sea, and if so, he could not have been Amenhotep II, who reigned for at least another sixteen years after 1445 B.C. (Donald B. Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times, 1992, pp. 408-409).
The argument in favor of the exodus-pharaoh dying in the Red Sea typically goes as follows: After a citation of Exodus 14:28, which says, “Then the waters returned and covered the chariots, the horsemen, and all the army of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them. Not so much as one of them remained.” This is followed by citing Psalm 106:10-11, which says, “He saved them from the hand of him who hated them, and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy. The waters covered their enemies; there was not one of them left.” With these passages cited, it is then argued: “Pharaoh was an enemy, right? Therefore, I don’t see any reason to speculate that he survived given the fact that he got his own chariot ready and took his own army with him: ‘So he made ready his chariot and took his people with him. Also, he took six hundred choice chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt with captains over every one of them’ (Ex. 14:6-7).”
However, the speculation being done by such an argument, or so it seems to me, is by the one who insists these scriptures teach that the exodus-pharaoh died in the Red Sea with the rest of his army. One of the very first thing a fledgling exegete learns is this: “Say everything the text says; say no more, and say no less!” Truth is, there is nothing in Scripture that directly says that the exodus-pharaoh died at the Red Sea, and a survey of the pertinent scriptures, like Exodus 14; Psalms 106; 109; and 136, will bear this out. One may, of course, infer that he did, but such is not a necessary inference. What this means is that this issue is not as serious an impediment to Amenhotep II being identified as the exodus-pharaoh as one might have thought.
Further evidence in favor of Amenhotep II as the exodus-pharaoh is derived from the Dream Stela of Thutmose IV, who was his son. It says Thutmose IV was not the legitimate successor to the throne (James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near-Eastern Texts, p. 449). This means he was not the firstborn son, who would have been the legitimate heir. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that the firstborn son of Amenhotep II had somehow died prior to taking the throne. This agrees perfectly with Exodus 12:29, which says the exodus-pharaoh’s first-born son died as a result of the tenth plague.
If the Exodus did take place in 1446-45 B.C. as the Bible indicates, forty years of wilderness wandering would bring us to 1405 for the destruction of Jericho. Interestingly enough, John Garstang, who excavated the site of ancient Jericho (city “D” or “IV” in his survey), came to the conclusion that the destruction of the city took place around 1400 (The Story of Jericho, 1948, p. 122). He also concluded that the walls of the city toppled outward, which would compare favorably with Joshua 6:20. He also found evidence that the city had been burned (cf. Joshua 6:8). Garstang’s work, which was actually done in the 1930s, came into question by work done at the site by Kathleen Kenyon in the 1950s. When her work was finally published thirty years later it caused quite a stir in archaeological circles, with most readily accepting her findings, which boils down to her claim there was no strongly fortified Late Bronze Age city at Jericho for Joshua to conquer. This, of course, conflicts with the biblical account; indeed, it disproves it. But to make a long story short, Kenyon’s published findings permitted her methodology to be critically examined, which biblical archaeologist Bryant G. Wood has convincingly done in his 1990 article “Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho? A New Look at the Archaeological Evidence” in Biblical Archaeology Review. In it, Wood arrived at a date for Jericho that was consistent with Garstang’s original findings, which in turn match the biblical chronology. This article has been reproduced here.
Additionally, the liberal scholars have been fascinated by a supposed revolutionary religious doctrine which developed shortly after 1446-45 B.C. and threatened to sweep away the theological dogmas of centuries. According to these scholars, Amenhotep IV, the great grandson of Amenhotep II, the exodus-pharaoh, is to be credited with introducing the concept of monotheism with his cult of the Aten. The Aten, supposedly the one and only god, was symbolized as a life-giving solar disk (see the illustration to the right).
In the process, Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten, which loosely means, “He who is in service to the Aten.” But instead of being credited with being the founder of monotheism, as the liberal scholars advocate, it seems much more reasonable to believe the descendant of one who had been so mightily influenced by the one true God that Moses proclaimed would instead be trying, in his own pathetic, pagan way, to mimic Moses’ monotheism. Fact is, there is an ever growing body of evidence that traces the cult of the Aten all the way back to the reign of Thutmose IV, the son of Amenhotep II, who so strikingly fits the profile of the exodus-pharaoh. Indeed, it was Thutmose IV’s son, Amenhotep III, who named his royal barge the “Spirit of the Aten.”
As a former criminal investigator, I find a study of this nature immensely satisfying. But in the end, the most important thing to remember is not who the exodus-pharaoh really WAS, but who the God of the Exodus truly IS – namely, YHWH Elohim, the I AM THAT I AM.